Is Central Park Dangerous? And Not For the Reasons that First Come to Mind


As a child growing up in Peter Cooper Village on 20th Street and First Avenue, my parents wisely limited my access to Central Park as they watched the crime rates soar back in those days.

According to the Park’s website today:

Taking proper safety measures, such as not visiting the Park alone or after dark, is always a good idea. That being said, crime in Central Park has significantly decreased in recent years. Those planning a trip to Central Park should use caution, yet not let negative perceptions deter them from visiting and enjoying the Park.

I actually haven’t thought once about crime in Central Park since I rescued Huck, my 85-pound part bull mastiff, part American Staffordshire dog.

When Huck began vomiting and having severe bloody diarrhea a few weeks ago, the vet thought he must have ingested some toxin in Central Park since this was not the typical case of giardia, a bacterial infection. After an X-ray and bloods, she could find nothing else wrong with Huck that might be causing the symptoms.

And then a number of friends and dog walkers started to report the same conditions in their dogs.

A ‘pesticide in use’ sign was posted near the ball fields in the Park and I stopped to ask one of the men working near the lawn about what was being used to maintain the pristine, weed-free look of the grass.

He admitted that 20% of what is applied is Roundup and that its use in Central Park remains quite controversial.

Of course, it’s controversial. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization came to the decision in March 2015 that glyphosate (trade name ‘Roundup’) is probably
carcinogenic to humans. The decision was following a review of available scientific research by 17 of the world’s top oncology experts from 11 countries.

Studies have shown that people exposed to glyphosate are more than twice as likely to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. My husband, a physician devoted to the care of children, died of that disease at the age of 39, so I know its horrors well.

Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned an independent laboratory in Germany for testing urine samples in 18 countries for glyphosate to determine the presence of the herbicide in humans. Traces of the chemical were found in samples from people in all 18 of the countries, with 44 per cent of samples found to contain glyphosate on average.

I contacted the Central Park Conservancy through a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request and they sent a list of what is applied over the 843 acres (2.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide) of the Park.

The first herbicide is glyphosate which is Roundup and is applied to “landscape weed spot treatments” which could be just about anywhere on any lawn in the Park. Not only has glyphosate been associated with lymphoma, but it is also associated with genetic damage and endocrine disruption (breast cancer).

Dithiopyr is also listed and again endocrine disruption is an issue as well as the fact it is toxic to bees. Dithiopyr is used on ball fields and meadows fence lines, and selected lawns.

On those beautiful weekend days when the Central Park lawns are packed, families with young children are lying on Roundup. The children that put their hands in their mouth after touching the grass – do their parents suspect the glyphosate on various areas of the lawn?

Children are, of course, more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides because of their size and the fact their bodies are still developing.

When my son and daughter and their friends relax on the grass on the weekends, where’s the glyphosate? Their mother wants to know.

New York City prohibits smoking in virtually all workplaces and indoor recreational venues, all restaurants and most bars regardless of seating and size. All New York City parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas are smoke-free.

Bikers in the city are allowed by law to wear one earbud. Fast food Restaurants must post calories and trans fat has been banned.

Why allow pesticides then in Central Park? I understand forty million tourists visit the Park every year, and a beautiful, weed free lawn makes for a great vision of the City for these tourists.

There are alternatives to pesticides, and cities such as Chicago and Paris are taking action to eliminate them in public places. Why hasn’t the Central Park Conservancy banned glyphosate completely?

We have choices – to smoke or not to smoke, to eat an enormous amount of fast food after reading the amount of calories. But when I walk my dog in Central Park I don’t know where the glyphosate is exactly, not if it’s used as spot treatment anywhere necessary. Tourists don’t know if they and their children are rollicking in pesticides.

My parents feared for what might happen to me in Central Park and now I’m worried for my adult children. It’s time to ban the use of these pesticides and stop playing Russian Roulette with our health.

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